Monday, April 29, 2013

2012 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award Winners Announced

Announcing…Your 2012 Lead by Example Award Winners!

Boise, Idaho – The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Committee announced that Anthony Escobar, John Lauer and Shane Olpin were selected for the 2012 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Award.  The recipients were nominated for demonstrating valued leadership traits during or in support of wildland fire operations.

The Lead by Example Award is based on three categories: motivation and vision; mentoring and teamwork; and innovation or initiative. Individuals and groups from federal, state, local and tribal agencies are eligible for the award.

The annual award was created to honor Paul Gleason, a wildland firefighter whose career spanned several decades.  Gleason is best known for developing the LCES (Lookout, Communication, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) concept that became the foundation of wildland firefighter safety.  The awards highlight Gleason’s influence on and contribution to wildland fire management, while honoring those who demonstrate the spirit of leadership for which he was known.

Award Recipients for 2012
Anthony Escobar, Los Padres National Forest, US Forest Service, was selected for 37 years of service and contributions to the wildland fire service through mentoring and teamwork.  Escobar’s legacy includes the formation and leadership of the Kern Valley Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) for 17 years, a 20-year commitment to the California IHC Steering Committee, authoring documents such as “Support and Concern,” assembling an all-superintendent S-230 cadre for the Apprenticeship Academy, sought after instructor and public speaker, and his vision and leadership of the Bakersfield Fire Innovation Conference.

John Lauer, Tatanka Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC), Black Hills National Forest, USFS, was selected for his accomplishments and demonstration of leadership is action.  Lauer advocated that federal seasonal firefighters be given access to federal health insurance programs, which instigated President Obama’s executive order authority and directed the Office of Personnel Management to issue a rule change.  This accomplishment is consistent with the notion to look out for the well-being of peers and subordinates.

Shane Olpin, Fire Management Officer, Bitterroot National Forest, USFS, was selected for mentoring and engagement of upper management as well as his duties supporting the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program.  Olpin has influenced firefighters over the years through oversight of the L-180 and L-280 courses and incorporating leadership into the Annual Fireline Safety Refresher. Olpin also provided a new way to experience human factors training and helped change the landscape of all-hazard response through the L-180/280 Train-the-Trainer program.

Fitness for Command

Getting Fit to Lead
(Photo credit: Michigan State University)

Our position as leaders requires us to take people into unpredictable situations where mediocre leaders can be quickly overwhelmed in a crisis and make dangerous errors in judgment. We accept the responsibility to demonstrate fitness for command as leaders in the wildland fire service. Fire leaders prepare for command by learning the applicable technical and leadership skills, by gaining the requisite experience, and by developing the physical, mental, and emotional capabilities through training, certification, and evaluation of behavior. - Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, pp. 61-62

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Revisiting the Loop Fire

About the Loop Fire
On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots, a U.S. Forest Service interregional wildland firefighting crew, was trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon on the Angeles National Forest.

The crew was constructing fireline downhill into a chimney canyon and were within 200 feet of completing their assignment when a sudden shift of winds caused a spot fire directly below where they were working.
Within seconds flames raced uphill, engulfing the firefighters in temperatures estimated to reach 2500 degrees F. The fire flashed through the 2,200 foot long chimney canyon in less than one minute, catching the crew while they attempted to reach their safety zones.

Ten members of the crew perished on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.

Much of the knowledge gained about wildland fire has come through the high cost of firefighter lives. Lessons learned from the Loop Fire resulted in improved firefighting equipment, better fire behavior training, and the implementation of new firefighter safety protocols.

The Loop and Glen Allen video was part of the Fatality Fire Case Study (formerly PMS 490) curriculum.

For more information on the Loop fire, visit the Staff Ride Library.

An Interview with Loop Fire Survivor Gerald Smith
Loop Fire survivor Gerald Smith revisits the scene and speaks frankly about his memories and experience.


These videos are available on the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center's YouTube channel.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Leadership Lessons of a Weak Leader

(Photo credit: Ed's Slipper)
We learn a great deal from the strong leaders in our life, but we can learn equally as much, if not more, from the weak leaders that cross our path along our journey.

In his podcast "The 5 Characteristics of Weak Leaders," Michael Hyatt discusses weak leaders and what to do if you work for one. For our reader leaders, Hyatt uses the example of weak leadership as exhibited by General McClellan in Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals (our national reading selection for 2012).

Hyatt presents the following five flaws of a weak leader:
  1. Hesitating to take definitive action.
  2. Complaining about a lack of resources.
  3. Refusing to take responsibility.
  4. Abusing the privileges of leadership.
  5. Engaging in acts of insubordination.
Do any of these sound familiar?

Don't be a weak leader. Share this podcast with your team.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Food for Thought

"General Failure" - A Look Within

(Photo credit: Veterans Today)

By Randy Skelton
Deputy Fire Staff Officer
Payette National Forest Service
NWCG Leadership Committee Acting U.S. Forest Service Representative

Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas E. Ricks' 12-page article "General Failure," although military-based, poses a lot of interesting correlations to the wildland fire service.

"General Failure" is a story of how the senior levels of the military have allowed the mission-driven culture to erode and the effects that has had on their ability to manage wars strategically. It has a lot of lessons of the effects of overloading a bureaucracy with too many senior leaders, as has happened to the U.S. military over the last 20 years.

Most importantly, "General Failure" sets the record straight on the performance of some key senior commanders. Students of leadership who have attended the L-580 Gettysburg Staff Ride may draw a parallel between General Tommy Franks' failure to capture Osama Bin Laden at Tora Bora and General Meade's letting Lee’s army slip out of his grasp at Gettysburg.

This article also shows how the loss of the mission-driven culture by the senior levels has impacted the military, and how remarkably different that is from the World War II culture.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge

As you read the article, reflect upon your own organization. Do you see similarities to the erosion of the mission-driven culture and our ability to manage fires strategically? Consider the following:
  • Leadership development
  • Risk aversion/risk taking/risk management
  • Self-assessment of one’s leadership abilities
  • Is our “system” designed to build and develop leaders?
  • Are we allowing or promoting or placing the most competent leaders in the right positions?
  • Do our most senior leaders micro-manage or are they too much into the tactics?
  • Do we have a lack of accountability?
  • Do we suffer from a “short-term focus” and ignore the long-term objectives (i.e., clearly defining an “end state”)?
  • Is it someone else’s problem?
  • Are leadership failures ever addressed?
  • Accountability of performance?
  • Global situational awareness…things beyond our sphere
A Personal Reflection

A couple correlations that stand out to me is how vastly different each forest and region operate.
“Observers moving from one part of Iraq to another were often struck by the extent to which each division was fighting its own war, with its own assessment of threat, its own solutions, and its own rules of engagement.” 
“One reason for such distinctly different approaches was that conditions were very different in each of these areas. But another reason was that each division commander received little strategic guidance from Sanchez.”
One of the many statements I liked in the article, “As is often the case in war, the question is not whether the troops can adapt, but whether leaders can.”

Thanks to Mark Smith, Mission-Centered Solutions, for sharing this article and his perspectives.

Perspectives from the Field

Fire Staff Officer/Type 2 IC Comments:
I read each word of the paper you shared. Something that I have struggled with for a long time in my role as a FFMO is “They are expected to coordinate and control multiple branches, such as artillery, cavalry, and engineers-that is, to become generalists.” When you look at our roles, the organization above us has multiple specialists: Operations (Crews, Engines, Dozers), Fuels (NEPA, FACTS), Aviation (Contracts, Retardant Avoidance, Airtanker, SEATS, Helicopters, Carding), Risk Management, Training/Qualification (IFPM, FSFPM, IQCS, 5140, Succession Planning), Human Resources (Staffing, Performance, Outreach, 52 Tracker, Pathways, Apprentices), Planning/Budget (FPA, Work Plan, Travel Caps, Micro Purchasing), Grants/Agreements (Coop Agreements, AOP’s) and I’m sure there are many I have missed. I have struggled personally to make a mindful decision to accept that I am a generalist in many of these, and I try and focus on what’s important and that’s giving folks as clear leaders intent as I can to allow them to be successful. The degree to how successful or unsuccessful I am is determined ultimately by the folks on the ground and I place less emphasis on the bureaucracy above me. Knowing that there is risk with that but it’s a risk I feel is appropriate.

The other part that struck home was “Not coincidentally, appropriate risk-taking diminished (the art of combat pursuit was almost lost in Vietnam), and a 'cover your ass' mentality took hold."

A great article that is a great tool to make a guy take a tactical pause, reflect and make efforts for self-improvement.

Fire Operations Specialist (FOS) Comments:
I thought the article had a lot of merit with where we are as an agency. I agree that this is something for us to seriously think about. What I found most profound is why, as an agency, we don’t have similar critical observations and evaluation of our shortcomings. All organizations have critical areas needing improvement and that will never change, but viewing the blind spot is often difficult. We know the ability to make change is directly linked to the ability to identify. There is no lack of critical evaluation in the military, politics or the private sector, so why does it seem to be lacking in our agency? Are we scared to solicit it? The military’s stakes are high; lives. Political stakes are high; votes. The private sector’s stakes are high; livelihood and the dollar. So what do we as an agency have at stake? It would seem the responsibility of developing tomorrow’s leaders, being accountable for our actions, placing the most competent leaders in the right positions, addressing leadership failures and clearly communicating end state would qualify. I feel our stakes are just as high, but we might not always share that same perspective as an organization. Hopefully this will provide us, as an organization, an opportunity for some critical introspection with a little facilitation.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What's Holding You Back from Being a Leader?

As part of the 2013 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign - Leading with Courage,  fire leaders may want to share with their teams Jothy Rosenberg's lecture about adversity and opportunity presented at the U.S. Naval War College.
"Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion." ~ Michael Jordan

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew Conduct Joint Annual Refresher Training

Fiscal Year: 2013
State: Indiana/Illinois
Agency: National Park Service/US Forest Service
Theme: Response to Wildfire-Collaboration and Training

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew Conduct Joint Annual Refresher TrainingIndiana Dunes National Lakeshore Fire Management and Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) recently conducted several joint training exercises in preparation for the 2013 Fire Season.

Since 2010, the two fire programs have been conducting joint Annual Fire Refreshers for their full-time fire staffs. This year the joint refresher training extended to the Midewin IHC’s required two-week annual training. On March 15, the entire Midewin IHC traveled to Indiana Dunes for a day of training facilitated by the fire staff of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The day started with a physical training (PT) session in the dunes along Lake Michigan. After PT, the IHC had a question and answer session with Indiana Dunes Assistant Fire Management Officer, MaryEllen Whitenack. This classroom talk gave the newer IHC firefighters a different point of view on fire management, leadership and how to succeed in their career. The IHC tries to have someone in a leadership or program management role at each unit they go to speak to their crew as part of a season-long professional development program.

After their talk on leadership, the Hotshots reviewed a Facilitated Learning Analysis of a tree falling incident that had recently occurred at Indiana Dunes. The crew was able to visit the area where a tree had fallen on a Indiana Dunes fire staff member, while working on a resource management project in February. The Cowles Bog Tree Felling Accident provided the Hotshots with a chance learn about the dangers of felling operations in the east. An open discussion about cutting and felling safety and emergency plans for fires and project work followed.

In the afternoon, the crew conducted break-out sessions with the Indiana Dunes staff. Sessions included a team-building exercise based around a mock airplane crash on a desert island and how to survive with limited items; and a skill session on backboarding and carrying out an injured firefighter from the woods. A third break-out station consisted of a crewmember using a handheld radio to communicate with other crew members on a UTV. The UTV driver and passenger were blindfolded and had to be guided through a series of traffic cones over the radio.

The training day concluded with a session on Type 6 and Type 3 engine operations. Hotshots were introduced to the tools, techniques and procedures unique to engine operations in an urban national park.

This year’s pre-season training for the two unique yet distinctly mid-western fire crews has set the stage for many years of continued co-operation on the fireline and in the training room.

Contacts: MaryEllen Whitnack, Indiana Dunes Assistant Fire Management Officer; or Nate Hein, Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew Assistant Superintendent

Email: or

Thanks to Jim McMahill, Chief of Fire and Aviation, Midwest Region, National Park Service and NWCG Leadership Committee representative, for this contribution.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Not Numbers...People

These are not numbers…they are people.
  • Anne was struck and killed by a tree.
  • Anthony was killed when his engine flipped over.
  • Paul, Joseph, Ryan, and Robert died in the airtanker they were operating.
  • Chris’s heart stopped while on assignment as a faller.
We all lead and follow in life threatening situations, are you conscious of the potential consequences? Is the risk involved real to you? Lead with moral courage and character. Follow with moral courage and character.
We don’t have a pie chart for all the lives saved by sound and timely decisions, bias for action, and leading up – but we all have stories about those instances. We all have access to multiple models to emulate. We can all practice decision making. We can all prepare for our leadership moment.
Do not distance yourself from the immediate or downstream effects of your decisions…know what you are asking and know what you are accepting.
Know yourself and seek improvement -
a personal responsibility; a communal benefit.
Thanks to Travis Dotson, WF Lessons Learned Center and Leadership Committee member, for this submission.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Food for Thought

Servant Leadership - Leading at a Higher Level

Chief Fennessy's Leader's Intent

Task: Review the video.
Purpose: Understanding of servant leadership
End State: Apply the three elements of servant leadership.

Leading at a Higher Level

Ken Blanchard’s keynote address on the first day of the Drucker Centennial Week Celebration provides an entertaining and educational perspective of servant leadership. His presentation is titled “Leading at a Higher Level.”

The Three Elements of a Successful Servant Leader 

The three elements he describes as ways to become a successful servant leader include:
  • Being a “bearer of hope.”
  • Looking at your people as business partners (no one of us is smarter than all of us).
  • Understanding strategic and operational leadership.
Strategic Leadership (leadership part of servant leadership) – All about Vision and Direction
  • Responsibility of those at the top of organizations to set vision, direction, strategy, etc.
  • If followers don’t know where their leaders are going, leadership doesn’t matter.
Operational Leadership – All about Implementation
  • How followers take the vision, values, strategy, direction, initiative and accomplish them.
  • Traditional hierarchy doesn’t work; philosophically, turn the hierarchy upside-down.
  • Leaders at the top are now at the bottom.
Thanks to Brian Fennessy, Assistant Fire Chief, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and NWCG Leadership Committee, for this blog submission.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Awarding the Spirit of Innovation

Elko District BLM Firefighters Receive National Recognition 

Ruby Mountain Hotshot Assistant Superintendent, Craig Cunningham, is the recipient of the 2012 National Wildland Fire Safety Award. This award is presented annually for outstanding leadership and service in wildland fire safety within the Bureau of Land Management's Fire and Aviation community…

Craig Cunningham (left) is presented the 2012 Fire Safety Award from Tim Murphy, Assistant Director, Fire and Aviation Directorate, at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho on March 13, 2013.

Cunningham has been a member of the Ruby Mountain Hotshots since their inception in 2001 and was honored for his efforts in creating a more concise debriefing format that is facilitator-led, using summaries and discussion to examine critical points. This approach modifies the after action review process and allows the participants to review the plan, leadership, obstacles, weaknesses and strengths. The debriefing is dynamic and interactive, focusing on specific topics and issues that happen during an operation. Cunningham is also being recognized for his superior mentorship abilities, training of rural volunteer firefighters and leading his crew through a safe firefighting season.

"I have worked with Craig for nearly 10 years, and each year I am relieved that I have such an outstanding co-worker with an unwavering commitment to safety," said Gabe Donaldson, Superintendent Ruby Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew. "I am certain that with Craig's presence, alternative strategies can be quickly made, and the crew's safety will never be compromised. Craig is an innovative, creative and insightful firefighter."

Gabe Donaldson, Superintendent Ruby Mountain Interagency Hot Shot Crew, congratulates Craig Cunningham.
Cunningham was previously recognized by his crews for being firefighter of the year for 2003, 2004 and 2005. He began his career as a crewmember on a Bureau of Indian Affairs Type-2 hand crew in 2001 when he was asked to serve on a two-week detail with the newly formed Ruby Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew. Due to his superior performance, he was asked to finish the season and has been with the unit since.

Elko District received further accolades with Engine Equipment Operator, Taj Sulahria, being honorably mentioned for his commitment to safe operations during the season.

"I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of all our firefighters and this is an example of that hard work and dedication to the safety of the wildland firefighter program," said Mike Ford, Elko District Interagency Fire Management Officer. "Both Craig and Taj are excellent firefighters and are a big part of the success of the Elko District's Interagency firefighting team."

Reprinted from The BLM Daily, March 21, 2013.